Jack C. Westman, M.D.
Jack C. Westman (B.S. ’49, M.D. ’52, M.S. in Psychiatry, ’59) is professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and president of Wisconsin Cares, Inc., an interdisciplinary organization that promotes public policies that enhance the wellbeing of childrearing families. He has published extensively on individual differences in children, learning disabilities, child abuse and neglect, child advocacy, family therapy, children’s and parents’ rights and public policy.
In a recent conversation about his latest book, A Complete Idiot’s Guide to Child and Adolescent Psychology (New York: Alpha/ Penguin, 2011), Dr. Westman shared some reflections on the role of psychiatry in addressing the needs of children and families from a public health perspective.
Why is it so important to focus on youth if we are to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes for depression, anxiety, and other disorders? The nature/ nurture components of psychiatric disorders are the most clear- cut during the early years of life. if we focus on meeting the essential developmental needs of children rather than on identifying the early signs of psychiatric disorders – on assets rather than on liabilities – we will go far in the public health primary prevention of these problems.
How can psychiatrists work across systems to effectively meet the needs of our most vulnerable families? Psychiatrists are uniquely positioned to initiate, lead, and/or participate in coordinated services/wraparound teams. We function in teams within the health care system and can apply that experience and skill set to working especially with the educational, human services, and legal systems as well. This occurs naturally if we work with our patients in the context of their real-life circumstances.
What role, in your opinion, should psychiatry play in advocating for children in the child welfare system? The child protection system is plagued by fragmentation and lack of continuity of resources for families. As a result, family members are treated as individuals rather than in the context of their families. Efficacy suffers, and public and private costs soar. Mental health professionals have a vital role to play in coordinated services/wrap-around teams and ensuring they are organized around families.
How would you address what you see as the most glaring shortcomings in our educational programs for psychiatry residents of the future? We should never focus on a child as a free-standing entity. A child and a parent are the two halves of an irreducible child/parent unit. brain development should not be emphasized over human development, and residents should also learn how to apply public health principles in their work.
How might we best restore the teaching of attachment to a new generation of psychiatrists and psychologists? The full consequences of strong, ambivalent, and clearly weak attachment bonding during early life are only seen in later life and in subsequent generations. Psychiatrists can play an important role in educating the public about the importance of attachment bonding in early life and its consequences in later life.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your professional career? Decades of participating in the growth of young people and their parents.
Read more about Dr. Westman on his website: www.jackwestman.com